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Advice from Outside the Square

Category Archives: Governance

Do you have the skills to be a Board Director?

Having spent a lifetime advising Boards of small and larger enterprises, I now spend a considerable amount of my time sitting in Board myself as a Non-Executive Director. It is interesting to me when I look over the meeting tables at my fellow Directors and see what they bring to that table. I believe many Non-Executive Directors bring technical skills to the Board, and others bring their management experience having run their own businesses. This is all well and good, but I believe that being a Non-Executive Director, you need to bring a different set of more helicopter-level skill-sets. Funnily enough, I believe these skills are very similar, if not the same as those of a good leader in a business, or those necessary to run your own good small business, even though the extent of the practice of those skills is different. Here is what I think you need to do if you become a Non-Executive Director. * To start with, you need to learn as much as you can about the business and industry, especially if it is an industry you have not actually worked in yourself. You need to understand where the company sits in the industry and its market...
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How non-financially trained people can prepare a budget in 5 easy steps

Preparing a budget is "easy" for an accountant and small business people who have some finance training. However for many it is the stuff of voodoo. But when you break it down, there is no real mystery around the preparation of a budget, it is based on your plans and intentions, costs that you can obtain from suppliers, and some judicious making of assumptions and estimates. In truth, any non-finance executive or business owner can do it if they approach the task logically. Here are 5 basic steps to take to compile your budget. 1. Tell the story of your plan first. A budget is no more than the costing of a story. Is your story one of expansion, or of reduction? Does your story include the need for more staff or capital equipment? Is your story about opening more stores? So the first step is to provide a narrative of your operational plans for the period of the budget, usually a year. If you don't have a business plan, look at your business and ask yourself what you will do within it for the year ahead. List any new initiatives, identify any areas you either want to close or reduce in size, identify your...
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Stop Micro-managing!

I had a meeting with a client yesterday. Amongst other issues we discussed the fact that even as her company grew, she had to continually look over people's shoulders, tell them not only what to do, but also how to do it in a satisfactory way. When I asked her what was a "satisfactory way" she explained that it was the way she would have done it, the way her customers had come to expect how her company would do it. She gave me an example where her version of "satisfactory" included a hand-written note to the customer the next day to see if the product met his needs and if she needed to explain any aspect of it to him. In other words quality was not a fixed value but a set of behaviours that had come to represent what the customer wanted. Only, she seemed to be the only one in the growing company who seemed to understand that, despite her experienced (and expensive) new hires. Readers will tell me this is not uncommon. When you start a small business, often you and your key team members know exactly what to do, and how to "do it satisfactorily" because you...
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Financial Understanding starts with the Chart of Accounts

We are about to discuss accounting matters.
Hey, don't click past, it really is important!
Well yes, a little boring too, but sometimes you need to get into the detail of the boring to get the information you need in order to do all the glamorous stuff like building a vibrant business. In fact often you need to get into details to make sure your product or service delivers its promise. Think of a mechanic - no point creating a culture of caring for the customer if your mechanics fail to bleed the brake valves every time. Or a lawyer who's innovative and really digs deep for the client - not proofreading and the typos will get him every time.
So, one of the crucial (boring) details in any business is the accounting. You can hire a tax accountant at the end of the year; you can hire a once a week book-keeper; you can even employ a full time accounts-person and buy an expensive accounting software system; but the decision about some detail must lie with you and while you should take some of their advice, you need to decide on some key elements of your books.
The one particular aspect I want...
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